MEXICO CITY (AP) - Andrea Martínez didn’t quite realize what she was getting herself into when she tried out to kick extra points for a Mexican college football team.
She thought maybe it was a position on a women’s team, or at least there would be other women on the roster. But when she won the spot, Martínez was told she would become the first woman to play college football amongst men in the country’s top amateur division.
"At first one did not dimension it well because I did not even fully understand that I was going to be the first woman," Martínez admitted in an interview with The Associated Press. "I thought there were more girls or that there was even going to be a women’s team."
Martínez, a law student at the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), had played soccer since she was 12 years old. She tried out to play professionally in the Liga Femenil MX, but didn’t make the cut.
She continued playing soccer at her school until a few months ago, when Pumas CU, the UNAM football team, decided to hold tryouts for a place-kicker.
"The decision I made was to try a new sport. Nothing else, just to venture out and see what it was all about," Martínez said. "I was very happy when I heard the news that I had been the girl selected."
Martínez, 21, said before playing football she barely watched NFL games, but it helped that her brother was a fan of the sport.
She’s among many Mexicans trading "fútbol" for football, as the American sport continues to gain interest in the country. According to the NFL office in Mexico, the sport has some 48 million fans in the country.
In the U.S., there are several women who have played as a place-kicker on male teams. Liz Heaston was the first to do it in 1997 with the Willamette Bearcats in the NAIA. Ashley Martin was the first one to score in an NCAA Division 1 game in 2001, playing for Jacksonville State.
Martínez has her own locker room, but she performs the rest of the activities with the men on the team.
"Coexistence is the same as with girls. But the way we live together, the way we talk to each other, the way we support each other, the jokes we make, it’s the same," Martínez said. "I get along very well, I have gotten to know them, not only in the gym, but here on the field as well. There are 67 more siblings that I have so far."
Since joining the team, Martínez has given around 80 interviews. Her face has appeared in the main newspapers of the country and has even occupied spaces on national television that Mexican college football players rarely get.
Although it was not her goal, Martínez has become a symbol of women empowerment in a country considered lagging in inclusion issues. It is no surprise that before and after games many girls ask for a photo by her side.
"There are little girls and boys who come and ask me for a photo or come up and say very nice words to me," Martínez said. "It’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever felt, being able to realize that, perhaps I´m inspiring them a little."
Perhaps also inadvertently, Martínez’s story is helping to bring more NFL fans to Mexico.
Recently, in an interview with local media, Al Guido, the president of the San Francisco 49ers, said that coming to play a regular season game next November is part of a broader strategy to win over fans in the country.
"We don’t want them to leave their ball behind," Guido said of soccer. "We want them to also throw ours and have our logo on the chest."